US Passport Photo Requirements Are More Strict Than You Realize

While you may enjoy the escapist fantasies that come along with planning your trip abroad, plenty of real-life logistics must be completed before embarking on an adventure out of the country. If you don't have a passport or your passport is expired, the process of preparing for your vacation will need to begin long before packing your bags. 

According to the U.S. Department of State, current routine passport processing can take anywhere from six to nine weeks. The agency also notes that the time it takes to mail in your application and required documents is not calculated within that estimate, meaning that the best time to get your passport processed is always sooner rather than later.

Your passport photo is a required element of your passport application. If you assumed sending in a photo for your passport would be pretty straightforward, that is not the case. You'll need to understand the department's strict photo policies. You don't want to get stuck in the states with an unacceptable passport photo, so be sure to note these requirements before snapping your passport photo.

You must have the right lighting in your passport photo

You might think that you will only focus on having well-lit photos once you have reached your destination and are capturing memories, but the U.S. State Department requires some camera and lighting skills for a routine passport photo, too. Passport photos must have a white or off-white background with no shadows, and the image cannot be over or underexposed (which means it cannot be too bright or too dark). If you plan on taking your own passport photo, you will need to ensure that your camera exposure is accurately adjusted to not make the image too bright or dark. Additionally, you will need to double-check your camera's white balance settings, since any hint of colorful hues or filters won't be accepted.

To get great lighting for your passport photo, you can place lamps or a ring light in front of you and behind your camera set-up. The U.S. State Department doesn't allow selfies, so you will need someone else to take your photo, a tripod, or some stacked objects to get your camera at the proper angle. Natural light is another ideal resource, so taking your picture with a window right in front of you and white background behind you is the best option.

You cannot wear glasses in your passport photo, even if you wear them every day

Even if you wear glasses every day, you will either have to opt for contacts or take your glasses off to snap your passport picture. The U.S. State Department banned glasses from passport photos in November 2016, according to the Washington Post. Both prescription glasses and sunglasses will not be accepted for a passport photo, even if there is no glare from the lenses of your glasses.

If your current passport isn't expired and includes a photo of you wearing glasses prior to 2016, you don't have to apply for a new one just yet, according to a memo from the U.S. State Department. However, once your passport expires and you need to apply for a new one, those glasses will have to come off for the picture.

Glasses will only be accepted in passport photos for rare medical circumstances, according to the agency. In such cases, a doctor's signature will be required. But the agency notes that, absent a recent ocular surgery that requires glasses to protect the eyes, eyeglasses will not be allowed in photos.

Take off your Army green or camouflage

Camouflage and uniforms are not permitted in passport photos, according to the U.S. State Department. But while you may not be wearing your hunting gear for your picture, you may want to skip any green outfit altogether. Travel expert and YouTuber Nicholas Demski said he was not allowed to wear a military green shirt when he took his passport photo.

"One thing I learned is, make sure you aren't wearing any military green shirts," the content creator said on his YouTube channel, Nomad Lifestyle. "You cannot wear that in your passport photos, I found out. They made me put on a ridiculous shawl for my passport photo."

As for uniforms, those won't be accepted in passport applications, either. Even if your outfit is not technically a uniform, if it looks enough like one, it may not work, according to the U.S. State Department. Opt for a regular, plain t-shirt or button-down, instead.

Hats and head coverings will also need to be taken off, unless you have a signed document stating religious or medical reasons why you have to wear them.

You can't pose or smile too wide for your passport picture

One last tip for your passport photo: don't bother posing. All you need to do is look straight-ahead, shoulders squared to the camera, eyes open, and a neutral expression on your face, according to the U.S. State Department. That means you shouldn't say "cheese," or smile big for your passport photo. Instead, save your big smiles for your destination.

Your head should be in the center of the photo with your shoulders visible. If applying online, you can use the U.S. State Department's photo tool to correctly crop your image. However, if you plan on applying in person, you will need to ensure that your photo is 2-inches by 2-inches big, with your head centered between the 1-inch and 1.4-inch mark (the agency has useful examples of what will and will not work in terms of sizing, proportions, and cropping on its website).

While getting your passport can be a hassle, knowing what to do and having it successfully processed on your first submission will make your travel experience go much smoother. Remember these tips when taking your passport photo so your international trip isn't delayed.